Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover: Fast Food at Al Jazeera
There are plenty of places in Cairo to grab a quick bite to eat if you’re in between museums, racing to work or even coming back from yoga class. One of my friends, a fellow yogi and long time expat in Cairo, only recently introduced me to a place in Zamalek that has some of the best goddamned fūl medames I’ve had anywhere.
And trust me, I’ve had my fair share of fūl.
For those who’ve never had it, fūl (or fuul) is a traditional Egyptian dish made of boiled down and mashed fava beans seasoned with salt and olive oil. It can be accompanied by a variety of toppings that include chili, tahina, tomatoes, onions, parsley and a dash of lemon juice; think refried Mexican beans, but with a twist. Some of the other popular staples in the Egyptian diet include sweet potato, the infamous koshary, taameyya (falafel), molokhia, lentil soup, grilled veggies and baladi bread, all widely available around the country.
Now there are plenty of upscale places in Cairo that serve a contemporary and fussed-up version of grandma’s food, though the price is often outrageous for what you get. On the other end of the spectrum are small hole-in-the wall eateries that serve up fūl and koshary for under $5, but they’re not the kind of places you’d dine at for fear of contracting a weird strain of E. coli.
And then there’s Al Jazeera. Oh Al Jazeera! Why did it take me so long to find this place? Tucked away down a side street just off the 26th of July corridor (Zaki Ali Street), Al Jazeera is the type of establishment you’d walk by without a second glance, which is a big, fat, crying shame because the bustling presence of the cooks and the line that spills out onto the street is a testament to how good their fast-but-still-relatively-healthy food is.
Serving up tameyya, grilled vegetables, fūl, fries and baladi bread, this place vibrates with energy from sunrise to sunset. My friend took me here to enlighten me at 9:15am after yoga and I couldn’t prevent myself from looking around totally agog.
I took my first bite of egg/fūl/tahina and I was sold. Completely.
During the 15 minutes we were there at least 25 people (yes, I counted them) came by to grab something to eat. Naturally, it’s not the most refined food and can be a bit on the greasy side if you don’t ask the guys to hold the زيت (zeet = oil). Yet, for any Intolerants out there, it’s likely to be some the least dangerous food around. This is because Al Jazeera can’t be bothered to worry about preservatives, additives or the use of butter and milk in their food, which would substantially ramp up the cost of their dishes. Aside from the possible deluge of oil, I find the food to be lightly seasoned and subtly flavourful. It tastes wholesome somehow…almost exactly the way I imagine authentic Egyptian food ought to taste.
I don’t know about you, but getting a bowl of beans, boiled egg, a helping of grilled vegetables and two pieces of baladi bread for 5 LE (.74¢ USD) is one hell of a deal.
It’s a bonafide breakfast of champs. Egyptian style.
Zaki Aly Street (just off of Mahmoud Azmy)
Zamalek, Cairo, Egypt
Open daily from 8:00 until…well I’m not sure really.